By Jake O’Bannon, Columnist
“To love another person is to see the face of God.” What a simple message, yet one filled with such life and truth. These are the words at the end of the epic story that is put to screen in Tom Hooper’s 2012 version of “Les Miserables.” Originally a novel by French writer Victor Hugo, the screen adaptation is everything but simple, but it is filled with majestic life and truth.
I have a confession I must make up front, because you deserve full disclosure. First, I have never read the original novel; I have only seen the musical and now the film. Second, Les Mis is one of my favorite stories, and this review will be extraordinarily biased because of my dear love for it. That being said, allow me to describe to you what I believe is one of the most beautiful films in recent history.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way at first. This is a long movie – two hours and thirty-seven minutes in fact. Furthermore, it is not a film for the weak of heart. There is moment after moment of pain and anguish portrayed through the lives and stories of a number of different characters. And in what has become the most reoccurring complaint about the film, the entire story is told through song (and Russell Crowe is not exactly a “Josh-Groban-type” if you know what I mean). That characteristic might throw a few people off. Other than that, there is not a lot to complain about as far as I am concerned.
The central character of the story is Jean Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman). Valjean is a former convict who has been released after nineteen years of slavery, originally being jailed for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family. When Valjean is freed, he finds that this type of freedom is not what one would expect when one hears the word. As a former convict, he must carry around papers wherever he goes, warning people of his past imprisonment. This freedom is no freedom at all.
One of my favorite moments in any work of film or literature comes when Valjean has an encounter with an elderly bishop – a bishop who happens to be the only person that will take him in for the night. While in the home, Valjean wakes in the night and steals some silver from the home and flees. He is caught by soldiers and brought back to the bishop’s home. Rather than telling the soldiers that Valjean did indeed steal the silver, the bishop gives him his most valuable silver – two candlesticks – claiming that Valjean forgot them when he left. This is one of the greatest examples of grace I have ever encountered. Never in film have I more clearly seen an example of God’s unfailing grace.
This moment becomes a turning point in Valjean’s life as he takes on a whole new identity and lives a life for others, giving all he has as the bishop once did for him. His first and most significant act is by taking over the care of a young girl named Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), who becomes an orphan after her mother Fantine (Anne Hathaway) passes away. Let me take this moment to tell you that Anne Hathaway was beyond incredible and is a lock for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Though she is in only a small portion of the film, her performance will stay with you long after it is over.
The story continues by showing Valjean and Cosette growing older, eventually concluding with the death of Valjean in old age. As I listen to the soundtrack of the film, I hear the song “One Day More,” which includes Valjean singing the words, “this never-ending road to Calvary.” Many find Valjean’s story to be a sad one. Many feel that his life was just what he said – a never-ending road to Calvary. I cannot argue with that thought. Yes, Valjean lived a life of pain and anguish. He went through trials and tribulations. But in all of that, he stayed true to his promise to be a new, grace-filled man. Valjean found his redemption in death as he was rewarded for a faithful life by a life of eternity in Heaven, as portrayed through his taking by the angel of Fantine in the final scene of the movie (A.K.A. the part where you will need your Kleenex box).
Critically, this movie received mixed reviews. Though it is nominated for Best Picture, many were not as kind as I in their reviews. Nevertheless, I believe this is a one-of-a-kind movie experience, and it is a chance to see in person, through the life of Jean Valjean, what it means to say the words “To love another person is to see the face of God.”